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Poor Man’s Guide to Rain Barrels

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Rain BarrelsFor those who have been following our exploits in gardening, you may recall that we put our plants in pots and leave them on our deck. This ensures they get the maximum amount of sun. There is a downside to our strategy, the spigot for the hose that sits on our deck is on the ground floor. To water our plants, we have to go down downstairs, turn on the spigot, walk up stairs, water the plants, then go back downstairs to turn off the spigot. Unfortunately we can’t get downstairs directly from the deck, we have to go back into the house, and through the carpeted basement.

At first, this sounds like not a big deal right? How lazy could I be?

It’s not that big of a deal but that, coupled with my growing appreciation for being as ecofriendly as possible, has turned me onto the idea of rain barrels. Why pay for water when I could be catching what falls for free from the sky? So, I started researching rain barrels and the first thing I learned was that they are expensive!

Warning: Chris, in the comments, brought up a good point about now using roof runoff water on your vegetables because it may contain harmful toxins and bacteria. I did some more research and it sounds like there’s no consensus but it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, to be safe, you should only use the roof runoff water on your other plants (non-vegetables) or for non-eating purposes. You can read a lot more about that here.

Buying A Rain Barrel

Rain barrels can get as simple or as fancy as you want. You can get a simple lightweight 55-gallon plastic barrel for around $80 and you can get a fancy hardcore plastic one for close to $200. Even at both price points, it seems a little pricey for something that is essentially a huge container that captures rain water, right?

Even after you buy one, you still have to make modifications to your downspouts so that the water is directed into the barrels. You’ll still have to do a little handywork yourself, so you might as well build the whole thing yourself.

Building A Rain Barrel

Fortunately we have the power of the internet, so we can find videos on how to build them! Here’s one from HGTV (actual construction begins at the 1:45 mark):

Is it worth it? Well, a quarter inch of rain on a “typical size roof” can yield close to 200 gallons of water!

An understated but crucial step in the process is the use of a screen to help filter out the junk that would otherwise come through your downspout. They don’t make a big deal of it but I think this one step can help extend the life of your barrel and reduce the number of times you’ll have to clean it out due to clogs. The overflow pipe pointed away from your foundation is a good idea too. :)

Poor Man’s Rain Barrels

Don’t want to build your own and don’t want to spend $80+ on one? I don’t blame you, the next best thing you can do is simply leave some buckets outside! Simple right? At the moment, we keep a bunch of buckets outside so that when it rains, the buckets are being filled. This is a simple solution because it takes advantage of containers you already have. The downside of this solution is that it doesn’t look very attractive and it’s not very efficient.

The next step for us is to build a rain barrel, a project that I think will be both fun and informative for us. And it’ll save us trips down stairs. :)

(Photo: fireballsedai)

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40 Responses to “Poor Man’s Guide to Rain Barrels”

  1. Stan says:

    Rain barrels are an excellent way to save runoff that can cause problems elsewhere. For those concerned about bacteria from the roof getting on food plants, please consider that the soil the plants grow in has much greater numbers of microorganisms. You would also do well to remember that the vast majority of these microorganisms do not cause human diseases. Microorganisms causing human diseases usually come from other humans! Careful washing of the outside surfaces of your veggies would likely remove all types of microorganisms. The insides are sterile already because the roots and other surfaces are excellent barriers to everything except water and soluble nutrients.

    Regarding the presumed toxins from roofing materials, until someone does a double-blind, controlled experiment and shows persistent toxic effects of roof runoff, I will operate on the hypothesis that any toxic materials are so greatly diluted that the food plants and the consumers will not experience any ill effects. Besides the vast numbers of friendly soil microbes will have an excellent chance to detoxify any very dilute toxins that may be present in roof runoff used for irrigation prior to the plants actually coming in contact with them.

    If someone has or knows of actual experimental data to support alternative viewpoints, I would be pleased to receive information on the specific sources.

  2. nk says:

    now you can collect rain water whew

    It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado but not sure about AZ

  3. Dave says:

    We have 4 and a half years of collecting rain water from our roof and using a biological slow sand filter to purify the water and carrying out a detailed study of the results all the while. There are many details and scholarly references on my website. A slow sand filter is an excellent way to purify water, and almost anyone can easily set one up to filter their roofwater runoff with only a few exceptions. Watering a vegetable garden with the water from a slow sand filter is fairly safe. After what I have found in our roofwater, I would never, ever water a vegetable garden with the water without filtering it first.


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